My Asian Roots

Jan 15, 2011

I just finished doing a recording project yesterday, recording From the Chinese, Four Songs for Soprano and Piano, by composer Lawrence Moss, which inspired me to reflect on my own personal Chinese connection:  both my parents, who are Caucasian and American-born, are fluent Chinese speakers.  My mother earned a Master’s degree in Chinese and my father is a professor of East Asian Studies, retired now from the faculty of Oberlin College.  When I was a child, my brother and I were both given Chinese “names” (which were really just approximations in Chinese of the way our Anglo names sound), and spoke a little bit of Chinese from time to time around the house. Nils and I were actually sent to Chinese school at one point.  I remember having lots of laughs about the fact that we were to refer to our Chinese teacher as “Sz Lau Shi Paul.” This translates to something like “Mr. Teacher Paul,” which when intentionally mispronounced by mischievous youngsters quickly becomes “Sloucher Paul.”  Our house was filled with Chinese and other Asian pieces and artifacts.  It was fun to work on this project that brought me back to my Chinese roots!  Don’t give away the secret, but I asked the composer for an extra copy of the score to send to my dad, who is an accomplished amateur pianist and was in fact my first teacher.

On another note, I recall ten years ago, as a graduate assistant, being assigned to T.A. for a keyboard skills class for graduate piano majors. The class consisted completely of Asian students. On the first day, the teacher took attendance by asking each student for both their real given name, and also for the English equivalent they had chosen. When she was done asking each student, “And your English name is…?” she turned to me and asked me to introduce myself to the students.  I replied, “My name is Lura Johnson, but my Chinese name is “Zhang Lu Hua!”  Needless to say the students were shocked and delighted.  When they started chattering at me in Chinese though, I was forced to give up the charade, as I remember practically none!

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Lura Johnson